Air fryers are popular kitchen appliances that can be used to make healthier versions of fried foods. As air frying can reduce fat and oil intake by almost 80%, health-sensitive individuals often wonder if there is a potential risk of developing cancer due to their long-term use. Unfortunately, the research connecting air fryers and cancer does not indicate any major concerns at this time. However, as with many cooking methods, ensuring that your food is cooked correctly could lower any trace risks associated with air frying. In this blog post, we’ll dive into does air fryers cause cancer and address whether or not sufficient evidence exists in regards to cancer prevention or promotion through it’s use.
How Air Frying Works?
An air fryer is a kitchen appliance that uses hot air to cook food, essentially replicating deep frying results through convection baking. Food is placed in the air fryer’s cooking basket, which sits atop a heating element and fan. The heating element rapidly heats the air inside the appliance up to 400°F. The powerful fan then circulates this hot air around and over the food at high speeds, driving intense heat transfer between the air and food surface. This rapid flow of hot air essentially “fries” the exterior of foods, forming a crispy browned crust through the Maillard reaction. The food cooks quickly and evenly without sitting in gallons of oil like in deep frying. Air frying produces similar tastes, textures, and appearances as deep fried foods using minimal oil or none at all. Up to 80% less fat is retained compared to deep frying, making air frying a popular lower-calorie cooking method.
Health Implications of Air Frying
While air frying eliminates concerns over excess oil absorption, questions have emerged over chemical changes that may occur to food during air frying. Specifically, the high temperatures can lead to the formation of acrylamide, a potentially harmful chemical. Acrylamide forms in starchy foods like potatoes when cooked at temperatures above 250°F. In deep frying, more moisture and oil in the cooking environment limits the reaction. But the hotter, drier conditions in an air fryer are very conducive to acrylamide development. One study found acrylamide levels in air fried potato chips were nearly twice as high as those in deep fried chips. However, acrylamide accumulation can vary significantly based on the specific food, with one review observing acrylamide reductions in some baked goods after air frying.
First produced in the 1950s as an industrial chemical, acrylamide is utilized worldwide in plastics, dyes, cosmetics, landfills, and wastewater treatment. It was also discovered in cigarette smoke in the 1990s. However, acrylamide garnered significant public health attention starting in 2002 when Swedish researchers identified its presence in many common foods. Evidence suggests acrylamide may pose neurological and cancer risks at certain exposure levels.
Acrylamide has moderate neurotoxic effects and is considered hazardous upon contact or consumption. Animal studies show chronic acrylamide exposure can damage the nervous system and reproductive organs. The IARC classifies acrylamide as a Group 2A probable human carcinogen based on studies indicating it may increase risks for certain cancers.
The main way acrylamide is believed to cause cancer is by binding to DNA and interfering with its repair mechanisms after damage. This can cause mutations that spur abnormal cellular growth. Workplace exposure has been linked to higher cancer rates among workers, though dietary acrylamide’s cancer risk is less clear. Currently, there are no federal US regulations limiting acrylamide in foods.
Does Air Fryers Cause Cancer?
|Not conclusively linked to cancer.
|Air frying process
|Increased compared to some cooking methods.
|Classified as a “probable human carcinogen” by IARC.
|Air fryer safety
|Potential presence of PFAS in nonstick coatings of some models.
|Air fryer cooking
|Lower oil usage compared to deep frying.
|Air fryer safety
|Reheated oil dangers
|Reusing cooking oil linked to increased cancer risk.
|Air fryer usage
|May be preferable to other high-heat cooking methods but not risk-free.
|Additional studies needed
|More research needed to fully understand air frying’s long-term health implications.
Acrylamide Safety Levels
The EPA established acrylamide limits of 0.5 μg/L in drinking water and 5 μg/m3 in air to avoid neurological problems. The FDA set an acceptable daily intake of 2.6 μg/kg body weight per day. Exposure above these levels does not necessarily mean harm will occur, but longer-term health impacts become more likely. Studies of occupational exposure provide some insights on acrylamide’s potential to cause harm. Workers exposed to 1-5 mg/m3 of acrylamide vapor over 1-3 years showed neurological dysfunction. Cancer risks increased for workers exposed to over 0.6 mg/m3. Compare this to average US dietary acrylamide intake of about 1 μg/kg body weight per day. While substantially lower than occupational exposure, whether effects accumulate over decades of dietary intake remains under investigation.
Acrylamide Presence in Foods
After being identified in foods in 2002, the FDA Total Diet Study found acrylamide present in many commonly consumed foods. Higher levels occur mainly in plant-based and high-carbohydrate foods. Frying, baking, roasting and other high-heat cooking create the highest acrylamide concentrations.
Some foods with notably high acrylamide include:
- French fries and potato chips
- Breads, crackers, and breakfast cereals
- Cooked animal proteins like meats, fish, and eggs
Food preparation has a major influence on acrylamide content. Boiling or steaming foods instead of high heat cooking provides far lower acrylamide levels. But for foods that require frying, roasting or baking, acrylamide is difficult to avoid entirely.
Acrylamide in Coffee
Coffee contains some of the highest acrylamide concentrations of any food. Levels can range from 130 to 853 μg/kg for brewed coffee. The compound forms from the Maillard reaction when coffee beans are roasted at temperatures above 250°C. Bean type, roasting duration, fineness and brewing method all impact acrylamide levels in the final coffee product. Darker, oilier roasts result in much more acrylamide. For instance, light roasted Arabica coffee may contain around 100 μg/kg acrylamide, while dark roasted Robusta coffees can contain over 800 μg/kg. Drip coffee produces more acrylamide than espresso brewing.
Regulatory Standards and Guidelines
While no federal limits restrict acrylamide content in food, guidance has been developed to reduce exposures. In 2016, the FDA issued guidance recommending that manufacturers employ mitigation strategies to reduce acrylamide in certain foods. The EPA also outlined a set of approaches to limit acrylamide, focused on avoiding overcooking. In 2018, California added acrylamide to its Proposition 65 list of cancer-causing chemicals, requiring warnings for foods, coffee shops and restaurants. The coffee industry challenged the regulation and was exempted in 2019. No federal labeling laws for acrylamide currently exist in the US, though EU regulations require labeling on certain high-acrylamide store-bought foods.
Research and Studies
A significant body of research exists examining connections between dietary acrylamide and cancer. However, much remains inconclusive on the doses and timeframes required for tumor development. Some studies suggest acrylamide may only pose cancer risks when consumption greatly exceeds dietary levels.
One meta-analysis covering over 223,000 people found no increase in renal, bladder or prostate cancer associated with dietary acrylamide. But a positive association was seen for endometrial and ovarian cancers. Another large-scale study observed no increase in breast cancer mortality across different acrylamide exposure quartiles.
Overall, relationships between acrylamide-containing foods and cancer rates are complex. Not all studies account for other carcinogenic factors like smoking that may confound acrylamide’s influence. More long-term population research is needed to clarify cancer risks from typical acrylamide intake levels.
Public Health Recommendations
While further research is still needed, health authorities provide recommendations to limit acrylamide exposures as a precaution. The EPA and FDA advise following food safety guidelines to avoid overcooking. Frying, roasting and baking at lower temperatures when possible can help curb acrylamide.
Health agencies also suggest limiting fried food and burnt toast consumption, and varying your diet to prevent excessive acrylamide exposures from any one food. Some countries like the UK have launched acrylamide reduction programs with industry to lower levels across many products.
Current evidence suggests dietary acrylamide is unlikely to be a major cancer risk compared to factors like smoking. But following cooking recommendations to minimize exposure provides an added health benefit alongside a balanced, varied diet.
Consumer Awareness and Education
Since acrylamide forms during high-heat cooking, consumers play a central role in limiting exposure. Health authorities advise against overcooking and burning foods to carbonization. Cook starchy vegetables like fries to a light golden color instead of darker brown.
Toasting bread to lighter shades avoids the higher acrylamide levels produced in burnt toast. Boiling potatoes instead of roasting also substantially lowers acrylamide. If air frying, cook foods at lower temperatures when possible and avoid frequent air frying the same foods like fries.
Consumers should also keep in mind that acrylamide levels substantially differ across brands of the same products. Checking labels for acrylamide content and minimizing intake of high acrylamide foods provides further control over personal exposure levels.
Impact on Different Population Groups
Certain demographic groups may face slightly higher risks related to acrylamide exposure. Developing fetuses, infants and young children tend to be more vulnerable to chemical toxicities. While occasional acrylamide exposure likely poses little risk, pregnant women or parents of young kids may wish to take extra precaution in limiting exposure sources. Older adults also metabolize and detoxify foreign substances less efficiently. Following food safety guidelines closely ensures reduced acrylamide levels that mitigate risks for older adults. Those with existing digestive tract cancers could potentially be more prone to dietary acrylamide’s carcinogenic effects, though direct links have not been established. For these higher-risk individuals, carefully monitoring cooking temperatures and varying the diet remains particularly important to minimize exposures. In terms of cancer type, associations between acrylamide and endometrial, ovarian, and renal cancers appear strongest in research studies so far. Women may benefit from extra precautions due to possible hormonal interactions with acrylamide. However, overall lifetime consumption patterns determine acrylamide exposures, not demographic traits alone. Anyone can reduce their intake through proper cooking methods and diet variety.
What To Do in Case of Sickness
In the rare instance that air frying is suspected to have caused symptoms of illness, promptly seek medical help. Contact the Poison Control helpline at 1-800-222-1222 for guidance on any suspected poisoning from home cooking or food contamination. Symptoms possibly related to very high acrylamide exposure could include dizziness, numbness, muscle weakness or skin irritation, though many other conditions share these symptoms as well. Report any case of suspected foodborne illness to your local health department. Save any leftovers as samples for testing and detail when and what foods were consumed prior to becoming sick. With appropriate help from medical professionals, the specific cause of illness can be identified and treated. In cases of suspected cancer, see an oncologist promptly for diagnosis and to discuss prevention moving forward.
Conclusion: Does Air Fryers Cause Cancer
Air frying remains popular for its ability to produce crispy “fried” textures with less oil than traditional deep frying. But the high heat air frying process can generate acrylamide, a potentially cancer-causing substance in food. While links between dietary acrylamide and cancer rates remain uncertain, some possible associations are seen for endometrial, ovarian and kidney cancers. Research continues to clarify long-term risks from typical acrylamide exposures. In the meantime, following simple cooking precautions like avoiding overcooking, burning or overly browning foods can significantly reduce intake. Varying one’s diet also limits exposure from any single food source. Current evidence suggests occasional consumption of acrylamide-containing foods likely poses low risks, but implementing risk-lowering strategies provides health benefits beyond just cancer prevention. For those who enjoy the convenience and taste of air frying, being mindful of preparation methods makes it a safe cooking technique within an overall healthy lifestyle.
Ronald B Gamrot is the owner of Silverking Brewery, one of the most successful craft breweries in North America. He started the business from scratch in his garage, and it has since grown into a multimillion-dollar operation. Ronald is passionate about brewing delicious beer and providing top-notch customer service. He is a respected member of the brewing community and often speaks at industry events.
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